Your neoprene wardrobe needs care but tends to get sidelined by other items in your dive bag. Wetsuits may not have small working parts like a regulator or BCD, but they are still an essential piece of thermal protection. They should therefore be looked after just as much as your breathing apparatus or buoyancy aids. Neoprene can develop a fairly unpleasant odour if not washed or dried properly so take care of it post-dive for clean smelling suits, hoods, gloves and boots that will last the test of time.
- Correct washing
Give your wetsuit a good rinse with fresh water after every use. This will flush out salt crystals, sand and chlorine – which can dry out neoprene. Don't rinse in salty water as the crystals can degrade the performance of your zip and flexibility of the neoprene. Hot water can also break down the neoprene, making it brittle so take off your suit before dowsing yourself under a shower head. Soak your neoprene items in fresh water for around 15-20 minutes. Never use generic household cleaning products as they will react with the rubber, causing it to perish. Putting your wetsuit in the washing machine can also damage it. Every now and then give your wetsuit a good clean with a dedicated wetsuit cleaner such as Slosh, Zybax Scuba Wetsuit Cleaner or McNett Wet and Dry Suit Shampoo. This will sanitise and deodorise your kit, removing any sweat, oils, suncream, algae and urine. Unlike detergents or washing up liquid, wetsuit shampoo has been specifically developed to be kind to neoprene rubber. Do this in the bath or any large container. Use cold/tepid water, not hot. After shampooing, rinse again with fresh water.
Your wetsuit needs to be bone dry before you store it. This stops mildew developing. Turn it inside out then, once dry, turn it the correct way round to dry the outside. Use a wide wetsuit hanger like the Waterproof Wetsuit and Drysuit Hanger and keep all zippers open for optimum air circulation. The weight of the suit will cause the neoprene to deform around a thin hanger, crushing and creasing the material. Either fold the suit in half through the centre of a hanger or hang by the shoulders. Hang out of direct sunlight to dry completely. Neoprene and lining fabrics are easily damaged and aged by UV rays, so don't be tempted to dry it quicker in the sun.
Salt and chlorine can corrode the teeth of both plastic and metal zips. Stiff zips can be freed up by treating them with beeswax – at Mike’s we stock the Beaver Aquawax Stick - or zip lube like McNett Zip Care Lubricant. When taking off your suit, be gentle with the zip. Try to open it cleanly in the vertical or horizontal fashion it was designed for. If you need to grab or yank bits of your suit to open the zip, ask someone else to help you.
If you stand on one leg of your suit to pull the other leg out, your equipment will not last very long. If you can, sit down or use a changing mat when donning and doffing. Standing on your suit, grinding it into a gritty car park will rot the rubber and split the seams. Hanging your wetsuit, rather than folding will also avoid any tension on seams.
Give your kit a good visual check before storing. Look for rips or tears that could develop into bigger problems if not repaired. Make sure it is completely dry before packing away to prevent mildew from forming. Keep the suit flat or roll rather than fold if possible. This will prevent the material from developing creases or becoming crushed, which will ultimately lose its thermal properties. Store your suit between dive trips on a purposely designed hanger to prevent creasing in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Do not store your wetsuit in a garage as exhaust emissions can deteriorate the neoprene over time. Do not store near oils, petrol, chemicals, solvents or in extreme temperatures, as these will degrade the neoprene's elastic and thermal properties.
Neoprene can be cut by your nails when donning or doffing or by sharp objects on your dive. Minor cuts and separated seams can be easily repaired with neoprene cement or glue like McNett Black Witch or Aquasure. Never pull lose threads – cut with a pair of scissors or burn with a lighter. Any unravelled blindstitched seams can be sealed with special neoprene tape if you have the skills.
Hundreds of tons of old wetsuits get binned every year in the UK. While many wetsuit manufacturers use recycled materials in their products, most suits have a life span of no more than 10 years. Synthetic wetsuit waste in landfill is estimated to take hundreds, even thousands of years to decompose.
Recycle your old wetsuits by donating them to watersports activity centres, yoga mat producers or to sustainable companies like Mindful Manta. They use material from wetsuits to make stylish, functional eco-friendly products like make up bags, purses and pencil cases. They will offer a discount if you donate OR you can have a custom made item from your own donated suit.